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Microsoft’s new browser tool will save you from accidentally tweeting something insensitive

The new extension for Chrome and Edge offers sensitivity and inclusion advice on your social media posts and email.

Microsoft’s new browser tool will save you from accidentally tweeting something insensitive
[Image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay]

Microsoft’s natural language AI researchers are among the elite in the tech industry, and their work is finding its way into Microsoft’s mainstream products in some unexpected ways. Its Editor function can flag insensitive or noninclusive speech in Word, for example, and now that same functionality can accompany you as you write tweets, Facebook posts, and emails as well.

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All you have to do is download the company’s new Microsoft Editor extension, which works in either Edge or Chrome (it will be available in about a week). Then, if you’re dashing off a tweet and thoughtlessly use a gendered term like “gentleman’s agreement” or “policeman,” you’ll suddenly see a pop-up saying that a more inclusive term such as “unspoken agreement” or “police officer” might be better.

If you write, “We need to get some fresh blood in here,” Editor is likely to underline “fresh blood” and suggest “new employees” instead.

If you describe someone as a “disabled person,” the AI will suggest “person with a disability.” Person-first terminology is preferred because it portrays the person as more important than the disability.

Microsoft says the Editor function can help “eliminate biases based on gender, age, ability, and more.” And it’s not just on Twitter. It can give you suggestions to improve writing you do anywhere on the web, including platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Gmail.

The Editor feature can also offer suggestions to improve fluency, conciseness, and readability. It’ll tell you when you should spell out an acronym, or put numbers in real-world perspective. A plagiarism-warning feature flags text it recognizes from the web and suggests adding the appropriate attribution or citation.

The tool can look at whole sentences, not just words and phrases. If a poorly constructed sentence is written in passive voice (like this one), some alternative constructions will be shown to you.

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[Animation: courtesy of Microsoft]
The new functionality is also expanding to Microsoft’s Outlook so users can get feedback on any insensitive or poor writing they do in work emails.

The Editor features for Outlook and the browser work in 20 languages, Microsoft says. The more basic editing features, such as spell check, will be available in 89 languages.

In addition to expanding Editor, Microsoft is rebranding its Office 365 subscriptions to be known as “Microsoft 365.” The change will happen on April 21, when the new Microsoft 365 suite (including the new Editor features) becomes available. The subscription costs $9.99 per month (or $99.99 per year) for a shared group of up to six people.

It’ll be available to Microsoft 365 subscribers, including subscribers to the Microsoft 365 Personal and Family productivity subscriptions the company announced today. Microsoft also announced a new “family” version of its Teams collaboration platform.

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About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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